Phonological awareness is an umbrella term that includes four developmental levels:
Phonemic awareness is the understanding that spoken language words can be broken into individual phonemes—the smallest unit of spoken language.
Phonemic awareness is not the same as phonics—phonemic awareness focuses on the individual sounds in spoken language. As students begin to transition to phonics, they learn the relationship between a phoneme (sound) and grapheme (the letter(s) that represent the sound) in written language.
To develop phonological awareness, kindergarten and first grade students must demonstrate understanding of spoken words, syllables, and sounds (phonemes).
First of all, phonemic awareness performance is a strong predictor of long-term reading and spelling success (Put Reading First, 1998). Students with strong phonological awareness are likely to become good readers, but students with weak phonological skills will likely become poor readers (Blachman, 2000). It is estimated that the vast majority—more than 90 percent—of students with significant reading problems have a core deficit in their ability to process phonological information (Blachman, 1995).
In fact, phonemic awareness performance can predict literacy performance more accurately than variables such as intelligence, vocabulary knowledge, and socioeconomic status (Gillon, 2004). The good news is that phonological awareness is one of the few factors that teachers are able to influence significantly through instruction—unlike intelligence, vocabulary, and socioeconomic status (Lane and Pullen, 2004).
Many students (75%) enter kindergarten with proficient phonemic awareness skills. The 25% of students who have not mastered these skills are from all socio-economic backgrounds and need explicit instruction in phonemic awareness. When instruction is engaging and developmentally appropriate, researchers recommend that all kindergarten students receive phonemic awareness instruction (Adams, 1990).
The following table shows how the specific phonological awareness standards fall into the four developmental levels: word, syllable, onset-rime, and phoneme. The table shows the specific skills (standards) within each level and provides an example for each skill.
|Less Complex||||More Complex|
|Word Awareness||Syllable Awareness||Onset-Rime Awareness||Phoneme Awareness|
|Sentence Segmentation |
Tap one time for every word you hear in the sentence:
I like cookies.
|Rhyme Recognition |
Do these two words rhyme: ham, jam? (yes)
What is the first sound in fan? (/f/)
What is the last sound in fan? (/n/)
What is the middle sound in fan? (/a/)
|Rhyme Generation |
Tell me a word that rhymes with nut. (cut)
Which word has the same first sound as car: fan, corn, or map? (corn)
Which word does not belong: mat, sun, cat, fat? (sun)
Which word does not belong? bus, ball, house? (house)
Listen as I say two small words: rain … bow.
Put the two words together to make a bigger word. (rainbow)
Put these word parts together to make a whole word: rock•et. (rocket)
What word am I saying? /b/ … /ig/? (big)
What word am I saying
/b/ /ĭ/ /g/? (big)
Clap the word parts in rainbow. (rain•bow)
How many times did you clap? (two)
Clap the word parts in rocket. (roc•ket)
Say big in two parts.
(/b/ … /ig/)
How many sounds in big? (three)
Say the sounds in big.
(/b/ /ĭ/ /g/)
Now say rainbow without the bow. (rain)
Now say pepper without the /er/. (pep)
Now say mat without the /m/. (at)
Now say spark without the /s/. (park)
Now add /s/ to the beginning of park. (spark)
The word is mug.
Change /m/ to /r/.
What is the new word? (rug)
*Integrated instruction in phoneme segmenting and blending provides the greatest benefit to reading acquisition (Snider, 1995).
Instruction should be systematic. Notice the arrow across the top. The levels become more complex as students progress from the word level to syllables, to onset and rime, and then to phonemes.
Notice the arrow along the left-hand side. Students progress down each level—learning increasingly more complex skills within a level.
For example, look at the Phoneme Awareness column. Students learn to isolate, identify, and categorize phonemes first. Then students are taught to blend phonemes to make a word before they are taught to segment a word into phonemes—which is typically more difficult. The most challenging phonological awareness skills are at the bottom: deleting, adding, and substituting phonemes.
Blending phonemes into words and segmenting words into phonemes contribute directly to learning to read and spell well. In fact, these two phonemic awareness skills contribute more to learning to read and spell well than any of the other activities under the phonological awareness umbrella (National Reading Panel, 2000; Snider, 1995).
So, as we plan phonological awareness instruction, our goal is to systematically move students as quickly as possible toward blending and segmenting at the phoneme level.
There are two types of consonant phonemes:
|Continuous sounds*||A sound that can be pronounced for several seconds without any distortion.||/f/ • /l/ • /m/ • /n/ • /r/ • /s/ • /v/ • /w/ •/y/ • /z/ • /a/ • /e/ • /i/ • /o/ • /u/|
|Stop sounds||A sound that can be pronounced for only an instant. Avoid adding /uh/.||/b/ • /d/ • /g/ • /h/ • /j/ • /k/ • /p/ • /t/|
The continuous sounds can be pronounced for several seconds without distortion. The stop sounds can be pronounced only for an instant. It is important to avoid adding /uh/ to a stop sound as it is pronounced—which confuses students. As new phonological awareness skills are introduced, using continuous sounds may be easier at first.
Read Naturally’s Funēmics is a systematic, program for pre-readers or struggling beginning readers that teaches all of the phonological awareness standards. Each lesson builds on skills taught in previous lessons, adding just a few elements at a time. With minimal preparation, teachers or aides present scripted instruction to small groups of students, using an interactive display (with brightly illustrated pages and interactive widgets) viewed on a tablet or whiteboard. Funēmics is entirely pre-grapheme.
Learn more about how Funēmics teaches phonological awareness skills:
The following programs do not focus on phonemic awareness but include phonemic awareness activities as part of a broader scope of instruction:
|Read Naturally® GATE |
Teacher-led instruction for small groups of early readers. Focuses on phonics and fluency instruction with additional support for phonemic awareness and vocabulary.
Learn more about Read Naturally GATE
|Word Warm-ups® |
A mostly independent, audio-supported program for developing automaticity in phonics and decoding. Focuses on phonics with additional support for phonemic awareness and fluency.
Learn more about Word Warm-ups
|Signs for SoundsTM |
Teacher-led, small-group instruction for teaching regular phonetic spelling patterns and high-frequency words through spelling. Focuses on spelling and phonics with additional support for phonemic awareness.
Learn more about Signs for Sounds
Adams, M. J. (1990). Beginning to read: Thinking and learning about print. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Blachman, B. A. (2000). Phonological awareness. In M. L. Kamil, P. B. Rosenthal, P. D. Pearson, and R. Barr (eds.), Handbook of reading research, 3, pp. 483-502. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Blachman, B. A. (1995). Identifying the core linguistic deficits and the critical conditions for early intervention with children with reading disabilities. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Learning Disabilities Association, Orlando, FL, March 1995.
Gillon, G. T. (2004). Phonological awareness: From research to practice. New York: The Guilford Press.
Lane, H. B., and P. C. Pullen. (2004). A sound beginning: Phonological awareness assessment and instruction. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
National Institute for Literacy. (1998). Put reading first. <http://lincs.ed.gov/publications/pdf/PRFbooklet.pdf>
National Reading Panel. (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. Washington, DC: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Snider, V. A. (1995). A primer on phonemic awareness: What it is, why it’s important, and how to teach it. School Psychology Review, 24(3), pp. 443-456.
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